Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Versal Rock Steady

I have a minute here while waiting for a class to vacate a room so I can see if I left my waterbottle there while talking to them about this Clipse video. During this minute I want to write, briefly, to say that Versal #8 arrived from Amsterdam yesterday, and it is amazingly beautiful. It is up there with the most impressive journals I have had the pleasure of being part of. I'll write more, maybe about how fucking awesome Brandon Shimoda's piece is, or about Editor Megan Garr's intro on the translocal which I was immediately fascinated by, when I'm back with the journal, which traveled with me yesterday but today did not.

For now, I just wanted to shout some props out there into the ether.

Monday, May 17, 2010

and since I made it here...

Writing about Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind." How there's only states of mind left, not states, when it comes to empire. The last gasp of the rap of American hegemony. The true end of the 20th century, the American century; thus the black and white, thus the Sinatra references, thus the vested heights for the final verse, thus the cloudy and overwhelming nostalgia of the whole thing. A dirge for place, for the era when place mattered, for the version of capital accumulation in which seats of power were physical and not financial, for the tangibility of monuments. "The upper-crust landmarks [Jay-Z] now references are a far cry from the grimy Marcy Projects sights that he once detailed, something that perhaps is to be expected from the self-described 'new Sinatra'" sez USA Today, by which Steve Jones really means that white people miss the financial bubble too, so we're feelin' it.

"Long live the world trade"—as in the best art the song gets it, precisely, and precisely does not. It is the living long of world trade as a system—of the age of globalization, we might say, or postmodernism, others might scoff—which sculpts all of the above. It was the spectacular death of the physical version, of the towers, that marked one version of the end of the American century. So it does and does not live long, just like the New York City of the video, in enough b&w for a Sinatra box set (I would've guessed sepia, though perhaps the case can be made that sepia intones 19th c., ceding the 20th to b&w). When, at the end of the video, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys spark into bright color, on a glowing red staircase in Times Square, they read not as suddenly contemporary, but rather just laconically aware that the second half of the 20th century is also over. "These streets will make you feel brand new, bright lights will inspire you," croons the hook, but it sounds like a plea. Alas, "make it new" was a directive for a different day; the song isn't about youth and vitality, and it isn't a song for graduations or bar mitzvahs. "Empire State of Mind" is a song for a retirement party, for the end of a good run, a song to remember you by. It marks, as I said, the true end of the 20th century—when New York as a place, when place as a meaningful marker and America as the center of something, finally shut down. It was Ford who said Drop Dead, but Obama presides now as the whistle signals the end of the shift.

This is where the conclusion, the final coda, of this dissertation begins—not at the beginning of the end, but at its end. The moment when art recorded again the ages-old historical inevitability that all empires shudder to a finale. Welcome to the 21st century! (And who else could be coming up the bright red staircase but China?)